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Ahl-i Hadith or Ahl-e-Hadith (Persian: اهل حدیث, Urdu: اہل حدیث, people of hadith) is a religious movement that emerged in Northern India in the mid-nineteenth century from the teachings of Syed Nazeer Husain and Siddiq Hasan Khan. Adherents of Ahl-i Hadith profess to hold the same views as the early Ahl al-Hadith movement. They regard the Quran, sunnah, and hadith as the sole sources of religious authority and oppose everything introduced in Islam after the earliest times. In particular, they reject taqlid (following legal precedent) and favour ijtihad (independent legal reasoning) based on the scriptures. Many of its members have identified themselves with the Zahiri madhab school of thought.
The movement has been compared to Saudi Wahhabism, or a variation on the Wahhabi movement, but the movement itself claims to be distinct from Wahhabism, and some believe it possesses some notable distinctions from the mainly Arab Salafis. In recent decades the movement has expanded its presence in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan.
In the mid-nineteenth century an Islamic religious reform movement was started in Northern India that rejected everything introduced into Islam after the Quran, Sunnah and Hadith. Syed Nazeer Husain from Delhi and Siddiq Hasan Khan of Bhopal drew primarily on the work of hadith scholars from Yemen in the early years of the movement, reintroducing the field into the Indian subcontinent. Their strong emphasis on education and book publishing has often attracted members of the social elite both in South Asia and overseas; University of Paris political scientist Antoine Sfeir has referred to the movement as having an elitist character which perhaps contributes to their status as a minority in South Asia. Folk Islam and Sufism, commonly popular with the poor and working class in the region, are anathema to Ahl-i Hadith beliefs and practices. This attitude toward Sufism has brought the movement into conflict with the rival Barelvi movement even more so than the Barelvis perennial rivals, the Deobandis.
In the 1920s, the Ahl-i Hadith opened a center for their movement in Srinagar. Followers of the Hanafi school of law, forming the majority of Muslims in Jammu and Kashmir, socially boycotted and physically attacked Ahl-i Hadith followers, eventually declaring such followers to be apostates and banning them from praying in mainstream mosques. From the 1930s the group also began dabbling in the political realm of Pakistan, with Ehsan Elahi Zaheer leading the movement into a full foray in the 1970s, eventually gaining the movement a network of mosques and Islamic schools. Following other South Asian Islamic movements, the Ahl-i Hadith now also administer schools and mosques in the English-speaking world. In the modern era, the movement draws both inspiration and financial support from Saudi Arabia, now being favoured over the rival Deobandi movement as a counterbalance to Iranian influence.
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Sab'u Masajid, Saudi Arabia
Its adherents oppose taqlid. They believe that they are not bound by taqlid, but consider themselves free to seek guidance in matters of religious faith and practices from the authentic hadith which, together with the Qur'an, are in their view the principal worthy guide for Muslim. They reject the use of kalam in theology.
Due to their reliance on the Qur'an and Hadith only and their rejection of analogical reason in Islamic law, the modern-day Ahl-i Hadith are often compared to the older Zahirite school of Islamic law, with which the Ahl-i Hadith consciously identify themselves.
While their educational programs tend to include a diverse array of Muslim academic texts, few adherents of the movement ascribe themselves to one school of Muslim jurisprudence, placing a greater emphasis on personal responsibility to derive judgments and ritual practice. While the movement's figureheads have ascribed to the Zahirite legal school, with a great number of them preferring the works of Yemeni scholar Shawkani, the generality of the movement is described as respecting all Sunni schools of Islamic law while preferring to take directly from the Qur'an, prophetic tradition and consensus of the early generations of Muslims. While the movement has been compared to Salafist movement in Arab nations and been branded as Wahhabist by the opposing Barelwi movement, the Ahl-i Hadith remain similar to yet distinct from Salafists.
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Like other Islamic movements, the Ahl-i Hadith are distinguished by certain common features and beliefs. The men tend to have a particular style of untrimmed beard often considered a visual indicator. In regard to ritual acts of Muslim worship, the movement's practices are noticeably different from the Hanafi legal school which predominates in South Asia; the men hold their hands above the navel when lined up for congregational prayer, raise them to the level of their heads before bowing, and say "amen" out loud after the prayer leader.
According to one source (Yoginder Sikand), "from the 1970s onwards", as Ahl-i Hadith began to access to funds from Saudi Arabia, it began to be "transformed" and doctrinal differences with ‘Wahhabis’ began to disappear "so much so that the Ahl-i Hadith came to present itself as a carbon copy of Saudi-style ‘Wahhabism’, with nothing to distinguish itself from it and upholding this form of Islam as normative."
Leading proponents of the movement joined forces against the opposition they faced from established ulama (religious scholars) and in 1906 formed the All India Ahl-i-Hadis Conference. The Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadees was respresented in the All India Azad Muslim Conference, which opposed the partition of India. One member organization of the All India Ahl-i-Hadis Conference is the Anjuman-i-Hadith, formed by students of Sayyid Miyan Nadhir Husain and divided into Bengal and Assam wings. After the 1947 separation of India and Pakistan, the Pakistani Ahle-Hadith center was based in and around Karachi.
In 1930 Ahl-i Hadith was founded as a small political party in India. In Pakistan, the movement formed a political party, Jamiat Ahle Hadith, which unlike similar Islamic groups opposed government involvement in affairs of sharia law. Their leader, Ehsan Elahi Zaheer, was assassinated in 1987. The Ahl-i Hadith oppose Shi'ism.
The number of Ahle Hadith madrassa in Pakistan has grown from 134 in 1988 to 310 in 2000. The group has 17 organizations active in Pakistan, "looking after their own seminaries,".
During the rule of the British Raj, no accurate census was ever taken of the movement's exact number of followers. In the modern era, the number of followers of the movement in Pakistan constitute 4% of the Muslim population, 25-30 million followers in India, and 27.5 million in Bangladesh. They control roughly 40 mosques in Maharashtra and 75 in Kerala. Latest data informs that about 1,000 Ahle-hadith mosques have opened up in Kashmir (The New Arthashastra, A Security Strategy For India). In the United Kingdom, the Ahl-i Hadith movement maintains 42 centers and boasts a membership which was estimated at 5,000 during the 1990s and 9,000 during the 2000s. Although the movement has been present in the UK since the 1960s, it has not been the subject of extensive academic research and sources on the movement are extremely limited and rare.
Ahl-i-Hadith [...] consciously identified themselves with Zahiri doctrine.
Ahl-e-Hadith ... a branch of the international Salafi ... tradition, heavily influenced by Wahabism.
It was ... not an easy task for the Ahl-i-Hadis preachers to go against the powerful sunni ulema ... They encountered frequent opposition from the latter ... In order to consolidate their efforts, the leading members of the movement decided to form an all-India organization, called the All India Ahl-i-Hadis Conference in 1906, in Lucknow, India.